Chuck [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Paramount Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Robert Segedy (23rd August 2017).
The Film

This ain’t no "Raging Bull" (1980), but it will do until another boxing masterpiece comes around. This is the true story of one man’s life: Chuck “The Bayonne Bleeder” Wepner, the man that went almost all of 15 rounds with The Heavyweight Champion, Muhammad Ali in 1975, and how that fight was the behind the scenes inspiration for "Rocky" (1976). All that is covered in the film, but that is hardly what this film is about. The main focal point of the film is Wepner’s fall from grace, his charismatic personality that hides a man riddled with doubt and fears; a man that could have been the best in the world, but he just didn’t have the guts to accept his place in the world. Truly a tragic figure in the best sense of the word.

Philippe Falardeau, whose 2011 film "Monsieur Lazhar" earned a best-foreign-language Oscar nomination, knows his way around a camera, and even though this film won’t be flying off the shelves, it is a shame in many ways. The pivotal role of Wepner is portrayed by actor Liev Schreiber and he delivers a top notch performance here, both in the ring and outside, as a man that has the talent and the desire to be the best, but he allows his own bad behavior to destroy his marriage, his career, and his self-esteem. Woman and drugs and generally being a lout leads to a rough road until finally enlightenment strikes and Wepner finally finds some peace within himself. But Schreiber’s performance isn’t the only amazing thing here; Director Falardeau surrounds Schreiber with some excellent supporting cast members, including Elizabeth Moss as the put upon wife Phyllis, Jim Gaffigan as best friend and enabler John Stoeher, and Naomi Watts as Linda the friendly but aloof bartender. Also supplying some great acting is Ron Perlman as Wepner’s manager Al Braverman, and Michael Rapaport as Chuck’s brother, John. Elizabeth Moss is better than good in this film, and she continues to amaze me with the casual grace that she brings to the screen, making Phyllis a strong but embittered female that is sick and tired of her man stepping out on her all the time. Refusing to be a doormat for any hot piece of ass that comes along, Moss steals the film from Schreiber in one scene where she decidedly whips a blonde hottie that Chuck has taken a liking to. All in all this is an excellent cast that really makes this production into something that is better than average.

So the backstory of the film is that we start with Wepner as he is making a living as a liquor salesman in New Jersey while boxing on the side, except that this big lug has the funny capacity to take a beating and to keep on slugging. With his face a map of scar tissue that would shame Dusty Rhodes, Wepner is slowly climbing up the ranks and is soon believed to be the next “great white hope” as he is the only white dude in the top ten listings. Wepner has his wife, who works as a postal clerk, and his young daughter, but he is very much an everyday type of guy. All this changes when Muhammad Ali (Pooch Hall) beats George Foreman in Zaire, 1974, and his manager, Don King, decides that the next match will be “racially charged.” The phone rings, and it is that fateful call for a title shot. Now Wepner is in the big time; proper training, solid coaching, he’s staying at a first class hotel in the Catskills; this is it, the chance to prove that “he’s not a bum.” Wepner is not deluded about his chances of a victory over Ali, that is until the ninth round when he knocks the champ down (an accident it turns out), but he nevertheless makes it to the end when a TKO shuts the fight down because of excessive bleeding.

The 70’s are a wild time to be an overnight celebrity; suddenly everybody knows your name, they saw you being interviewed on the Mike Douglas show, and they want to be your best friend. “Wine, woman and song” or so says the man when asked the secret of his success. Phyllis gets steamed when she hears this, and off she goes to her mother’s with your daughter in tow. Things start to go sour quickly from this point onward and the trajectory is strictly downhill as cocaine enters the picture. All of a sudden it’s white lines and passing out on the sofa until Phylisl gives you the bum rush and shows you the door; without your daughter, you are nothing. Then you get wind that Sylvester Stallone had based his hit film, "Rocky" (1976) on you. Who would have thunk it, the Bayonne Bleeder up there on the big screen? Meanwhile you are hitting all of the bars in Jersey and making time with all the fine ladies. The coke keeps you going and before you know it, you are selling some on the side to make some easy cash. Then the bottom drops out and you are set up in a drug deal. Jail time is what the future holds, but maybe that is okay. Maybe you need some alone time to get your head straight again. Time passes slowly, but you keep your head down and stay out of trouble for once. Then Sylvester Stallone (Morgan Spector) shows up looking for you, but you wisely say, no thanks.

The 70’s are on full display here as Falardeau interweaves historic footage of actual events with the fictitious film and the soundtrack is pure 70’s AM gold as we get a trip down memory lane whenever someone enters a bar or drives a car. There’s plenty of ugly fashion choices on display as well; lots of double knits and flared slacks, leather coats and wide collars. Plenty of older model cars are driven and the real life Bayonne is committed to film looking rough and worn; Nicolas Bolduc’s cinematography is dark and moody, lots of browns and reds, murky shadow’s and muted sunlight and it feels just right. Schreiber’s face is a tortured mass of flesh, complete with broken nose and numerous stitches that show the hard earned triumphs of this big hearted palooka. Do yourself a favor and rent this film and be quietly awed by its story of loud pride and quiet redemption. And yes, there’s even a happy ending.

Video

Presented in widescreen 1.85:1 HD 1080p 24/fps, using AVC MPEG-4 compression. Sharp photography and a good eye for details highlight this period piece with a grit that you can see and feel. Good looking casts with blacks being nice and dark, flesh tones are natural, and there isn’t any over compression evident.

Audio

the English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless soundtrack is okay, nothing to get excited about though, good use of 70’s music throughout, dialogue is clear and the center channel audio delivering without overwhelming the rest of the audio. Subtitles are included in English, English for the hearing impaired, and Spanish.

Extras

The only extra on this disc is "All About Chuck" (3:28) a brief featurette that explores the character and the actor that portrays Wepner. Sadly lacking in any additional information such as the filming process, etc.

Overall

"Chuck" is a surprising film that is enriched by its marvellous cast. You may have seen "Rocky" (1976) previously, but see now the story behind the story.

The Film: A Video: A Audio: A Extras: C Overall: B+

 


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